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State lawmakers push to allow medical marijuana in schools

Medical marijuana plants are seen growing in a special greenhouse. (AP photo)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Meagan Holt sat in the front row of a committee hearing earlier this week holding her 4-year-old daughter Maddie in one arm and a syringe filled with cannabis oil in the other.

"Cannabis is what's kept her alive all this time," Holt said. "She isn't supposed to be here."

Maddie was born blind, deaf and has many health complications from a rare terminal disease called Zellweger Syndrome. Holt says babies like her usually die shortly after birth, but Maddie has surpassed her life expectancy because of medical marijuana.

Lawmakers in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee heard parents like Holt speak about the benefits of medical marijuana and how it has helped their children function without pain or other issues until their next dose. House Bill 1060 would allow a parent or guardian to privately administer medical marijuana to a child while at school, on a school bus or at a school-sponsored event. Under existing law schools are not required to allow on-site use of medical marijuana, but are permitted to allow it if they choose. The measure awaits action in the Ways & Means Committee.

Supporters of the measure explained the process is simple.

"We're talking about kids who already go through so much medical turmoil, why not give them the opportunity to go to school and make friends," Holt said. "This is not a scary thing, these kids are wonderful kids, they use a controversial medicine but it shouldn't matter if it's what works for them."

Holt said it usually takes just seconds to give Maddie her medicine through a feeding tube four times a day. Other parents said it can be administered simply by having a child eat a cookie or drink chocolate milk.

Republican Sen. Joe Fain, the vice chair of the committee, said he doesn't see how this would be any different than a parent coming to school to give their child an opioid if they needed it for whatever reason.

Under the measure, school districts would need to create a policy that would allow a student who meets the requirements of state law to consume only non-smokable medical marijuana products while at school.

According to the Washington Department of Health there are 87 children registered for medical marijuana since the roll-out of the database last year, but the DOH doesn't know the circumstances surrounding each child or if they're enrolled in school.

Last year, Colorado became the third state - joining New Jersey and Maine - to allow students to use marijuana in school for medical purposes. The Washington state Legislature took a slightly different turn that same year by specifying schools are not required to allow on-site use of medical marijuana, but are permitted to allow it if they choose.

Jessica Vavrus of the Washington State School Directors' Association said WSSDA is against the bill because it would conflict with federal law.

"We're not disputing the value it has for medicinal purposes or how it can improve the life of a child," Vavrus told The Associated Press. "It's the technical pieces related to implementing something that could very quickly cause challenges for school districts."

To receive federal funds, Vavrus says districts must abide by the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and must have a drug and tobacco-free workplace.

According to the bill's fiscal report, in state fiscal year 2016, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction received $893 million in federal funds.

Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet suggested moving forward.

"Couldn't we put this law into place so these parents' concerns are addressed and if the feds come after us then we go to plan B and figure out what we do next," Mullet said.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law for any purpose. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures 28 states and three territories allow marijuana for medical use.

Voters in Washington state approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 1998.

Holt said even though Maddie is unable to hear or speak, she learns through interaction and touch.

"She's just a kid and just wants to be like every other kid," Holt said.

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